Government reports show significant H-1B wage violations

August 23, 2006

WASHINGTON (23 August 2006) -- Many H-1B workers have not been paid the wages their employers claimed they would pay them, but because of the Department of Labor's limited authority to investigate such claims, the extent of these violations is unknown.

"It's time to blow away the myth that the H-1B program protects foreign workers," IEEE-USA Vice President Ron Hira said. "Many H-1B holders are treated like indentured servants. So before Congress considers raising the H-1B cap, it should give the Labor Department broader enforcement authority to investigate claims of workplace and wage abuse."

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has documented numerous H-1B violations. These include:

1) "From fiscal year 2000 through fiscal year 2005, [the Department of] Labor reported an increase in the number of H-1B complaints and violations, and a corresponding increase in the number of employer penalties. In fiscal year 2000 Labor required employers to pay back wages totaling $1.2 million to 226 H-1B workers; by fiscal year 2005, back wage penalties had increased to $5.2 million for 604 workers." -- GAO report (June 2006). See (page 2).

2) "Labor is responsible for, among other things, ensuring that employers do not violate H-1B wage agreements, and continues to find instances of employers not paying H-1B workers the wages required by law; however, the extent to which such violations occur is unknown and may be due in part to Labor's limited investigative authority." -- GAO report (Sept. 2003). See (page 4).

3) "... over the last 4½ years, 83 percent of the closed H-1B investigations found violations -- compared to about 40 to 60 percent under other labor laws, according to Labor officials, and the amount of back wages owed to H-1B workers has been substantial -- over $2 million, or about $3,800 per employee found to have back wages due." - GAO report (Sept. 2000). See (page 22).

Hira said these reports show what companies say they will pay an H-1B holder and what they actually pay are often two different things. He drew an analogy to the income tax system.

"How many people would pay taxes if they didn't fear being audited?" he said. "Because companies know their use of the H-1B program will never be scrutinized, some exploit H-1B workers with little worry of being caught. Congress should enact an auditing system for the H-1B program to improve the program's integrity and ensure foreign workers are not exploited."
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